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Archive for the ‘Bee-ology’ Category

I just love stories that show that the world of bees is unexplainable, beyond individual intelligence and that even to the most brainiest of scientists can’t explain how they do it!

Scientists at Queen Mary, University of London and Royal Holloway, University of London have discovered that bees learn to fly the shortest possible route between flowers even if they discover the flowers in a different order. Bees are effectively solving the ‘Travelling Salesman Problem’, and these are the first animals found to do this.


The Travelling Salesman must find the shortest route that allows him to visit all locations on his route. Computers solve it by comparing the length of all possible routes and choosing the shortest. However, bees solve it without computer assistance using a brain the size of grass seed. […]

Co-author and Queen Mary colleague, Dr. Mathieu Lihoreau adds: “There is a common perception that smaller brains constrain animals to be simple reflex machines. But our work with bees shows advanced cognitive capacities with very limited neuron numbers. There is an urgent need to understand the neuronal hardware underpinning animal intelligence, and relatively simple nervous systems such as those of insects make this mystery more tractable.

So long as scientists only think of bees as individual insects, they will continue to miss the point.  Same for the planet really.  So long as governments continue to see us as individuals, they will also miss the point.  Time for more research into swarm intelligence and the subtle energies that allow colonies to survive and prosper.

Story from: http://technoccult.net/archives/2010/10/27/bees-can-solve-the-travelling-salesman-problem/

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A great programme from the BBC on Heater Bees broadcast this evening.

Unfortunately, you can’t watch the whole programme any more, but there are some clips here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00rqgh4#clips

And this amazing photograph:

 

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In the work that I do, I am often asked what is the difference between leaders and managers.  So here is an attempt to describe the difference:
Leaders lead people. In order to lead people they need vision of a possible future and a sense of purpose. And they need to convince others that this vision and purpose are something that are worth working towards. Leaders  have to master uncertainty and lead people when the future is uncertain and the outcomes are unclear. To that extent, leaders will need to fall back on their own values and beliefs and express (when questioned) what the future might look like.  They will often answer uncertainty with more uncertainty, but dress it up in a coat of confidence such that the followers believe in the body language and are less concerned about the ideas or words.
Managers manage work. The work might have other people doing the work or it might have machines doing the work. Enlightened managers should also be leaders. But when the people become machines without a purpose other than to turn up and do the work and get a wage – and when the managers become lazy and start bullying the workforce, then managers are on the rocky road to redundancy – working towards redundancy of the process they are managing and, ultimately, redundancy from the organisation they are working for.
Therefore, Leadership is normally described in a positive light – because it is easy to see when leaders are being effective and have enthusiastic followers. Quite simply, mis-leadership is not such an interesting idea, because the followers simply stop following and move on to follow something else!
However, we constantly struggle with the two poles of management – good management and mis-management – simply because our employment laws and the ways that companies create contracts often lock-in the bully-boy mentality to a process, system or business relationship that others will follow simply to earn a wage.
In beekeeping we have a term for a colony that is being well-managed (not just by the queen, but when the system is stable). It is when the colony is “queen-right”.  In other words, there is single laying queen in residence that gives off enough pheromones to keep the colony happy.  It is not simply that the queen is a good leader, but that the pheromones are strong and bind the colony. I often think human societies behave in the same way – except that our pheromones are words!
When the colony is not “queen-right”, there are no binding pheromones.  In such cases, the colony starts to become stressed.  If a queen does not appear from a queen cell in three or four weeks, it is likely that workers will start laying unfertilised eggs.  Although flying bees will continue to bring nectar and pollen into the hive, the hive will eventually die off because no new bees are being produced by the colony.  I have often found that a hive in this state also becomes aggressive – but not in every case.  So in this case there is no “leadership” in the sense that there are no binding pheromones from the queen – yet lots of day-to-day management of tasks that are instinctive behaviours by the individual bees.
Interested to know what others think about these ideas!

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In his book “Sacred Geometry – Philosophy and Practice”, Robert Lawlor has an interesting picture on the connection between sacred geometry and the honey bee.  Lawlor draws attention to the ubiquitous relationship between One and the Square Root of Two (or 1:1.41421356…) and shows this in the diagram below:


Sacred Geometry and the Honey Bee - Mysteries of the Melissae

Excerpt from page 31 “Sacred Geometry – Philosophy and Practice”

Next to it he writes a rather elegant piece on the root:

“The Root of a Plant, like the mathematical root, is causative, the former being embedded in the earth, the latter embedded in the square. The visible growth of a plant , its proliferation into specificity, depends upon the root for stability and nutrition. The Plant root nourishes because it is able to break down ( divide) the fixed, dense mineral constituents of the soil.”

“In the vital sense the geometric root is an archetypal expression of the assimilative , generating, transformative function which is root. Like the vegetal root, the root of 2 contains the power of nature which destroys in order to progress ( it severs the initial square) and it also contains the power which instantaneously transforms 1 into 2 ..”

Further on in the book, Lawlor states that:

“The Fibonacci Series perfectly delineates the breeding pattern of rabbits, a symbol of fecundity, and the ration of males to females in honey bee hives”.

The Fibonacci Series is a mathematically beautifully elegant number that I came across when I was about 13.  I was so excited when I discovered it, that I thought I had created one of the most brilliant mathematical break-throughs of the twentieth century – only to find that Fibonacci had beaten me to it (and prior to that Indian Mathematicians) many centuries before!   The golden number (as it is often called) is denoted by the Greek letter phi and approximately equal to 1.61818….

If Lawlor is right, it  would mean that there would be many more drones in my hives than I see every year… the male to female ratio (drone to worker ratio) is not anything like 1:1.6… – there are far fewer drones than that – and many of them are probably itinerants from other colonies!  The proportion also changes through the year – as the drones are pushed out of the hive in the Autumn by the worker bees and there are none in the hive over winter (unless it is a queenless hive).  This is probably because the drones eat three times more than the worker bees!

So, as elegant as some of the theories are in this book, I feel that sometimes the myth is created to make the magic!  However, I am sure you will agree that there is much evidence on the other posts on this site that there is still considerable magic in studying the lore of the honeybee!

The book contains amazing insights and illustrations on the theme of sacred geometry.  You can see more if you take a look at the link below:

Originally found at: http://www.milliande.com/Mysteries-of-the-Melissae-Sacred-Geometry-and-the-Honey-Bee.html

See also: https://beelore.com/2008/01/20/the-melissae-and-aphrodite-in-ancient-greece/

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Honeybees have been “voting” in single winner “elections” for 20-50 million years.  They’ve held far more elections than humans, for a lot longer, and to decide something that mattered to each bee voter a lot more than most election winners matter to most human voters: where should we locate our new nest?

Each spring, about half the inhabitants of each beehive leave with their queen to start a new hive –  in a swarm usually containing between 2000 and 20000 bees.  The most important decision they need to make is: where to build that new hive? They usually find about 20 different options within about 100 square kilometers, and about 90% of the time, the bee swarm succeeds in selecting (what appears to entomologists to be) the best one. Occasionally, however, they select a sub-optimal choice or even fail to reach a decision. The latter is very bad since there is only one queen – who cannot be divided in two!

Details: Lindauer in observing 19 swarms reported 2 that failed to reach a decision. In the first, the swarm split in two, each trying to get the queen to go to its choice; but after it became clear this attempt failed, the swarm rejoined and recommenced negotiations, which after two more days resulted in an agreement. In the second instance, the swarm had still failed to find an attractive housing option even after 14 days, at which point it ran out of stored food and inclement weather approached. It then, apparently as a fallback option, decided to construct the new nest in open air right then and there, contrary to the usual policy of nesting in natural hollows. Open air nesting usually leads to the death of the hive in the winter, but in this location the winters were mild enough to make survival probable.


So bees, while not perfect decision makers, are quite good. To provide a little perspective, consider the “plurality voting method” that is the most commonly used system in human single-winner elections.

Computer simulations  show that 1283 plurality-voters, given 10 choices, will succeed in choosing the best choice 32% of the time. While 32% is better than just making a random guess (10%), it is a far worse performance than bees.  If the simulated-humans instead employ “approval voting” (approving choices with value greater than midway between the best and worst available) then they get the best choice 54% of the time – better, but still far worse than bees. If the humans use 0-100 “range voting” (scoring the best choice 100, the worst 0, and the rest linearly interpolated) then it’s 79%. That is at least approaching bee-like decision-making quality.

As the internet allows us to do more sophisticated voting for many ranges of issues, surely there is still yet more we can learn from the bees to make better decisions for the planet!  I wonder how one can get these ideas over to politicians, though, who will often have self-interest higher on their agenda than good decision-making.

More at: http://rangevoting.org/ApisMellifera.html

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The late E.F.Woods was the inventor of the Apidictor.

“Sound engineers are familiar with a phenomenon known as the ‘cocktail party effect’. This is the ability of the human brain, in a room full of chattering people, to pick out and concentrate on one conversation, not necessarily the loudest. Eddie was blessed with this ability and it served him well when listening to the medley of sounds that his microphone picked up in the hive.

One sound that caught his attention was a sort of warbling noise that varied between the notes A and C sharp; that’s 225 – 285 Hz in terms of frequency. He noticed that this sound got steadily louder, then it stopped and a day or so later a swarm took off.

Eventually, he decided that it was made by the 4-1/2 to 6 day old nurse bees, his reasoning being as follows:

In a normal colony there are about 4,000 nurse bees, half of which feed the brood and the other half, the queen, who eats 20 times her own weight in a day.

When a colony decides to swarm, its first action is to reduce the supply of food to the queen in order to slim her down into a condition for flying. This puts some of the nurse bees out of work and reduces her egg laying. Hence, a few days later, there are fewer larvae to feed so more nurse bees become unemployed and the whole process is progressive.

The nurses have to get rid of the energy that would go into food production so they probably stand there exercising by flapping their wings, fanning in fact, but how do we account for the peculiar frequency?

In flight, an adult bee flaps its wings 250 times a second but when fanning, it grips the comb and this brings the frequency down to 190 Hz. (Hz is just an abbreviation for Hertz which is the engineer’s word for ‘times a second’.) However, a young bee’s wings do not harden completely until it is 9 days old and until then the resonant frequency is higher. It may be that 4-1/2 day wings resonate at 285Hz and the 6 day old ones at 225Hz and the sound is a mixture of single frequencies rather than a collection of warbles from individual bees.

Eddie built a simple audio frequency amplifier with microphone and headphones and incorporated what is known as a bandpass filter. This allowed the frequency band 225-285Hz through to the ear and blocked off the rest, making it easier to hear.

Note that the flight frequency of 250 Hz falls in this band which is why the tests should be made in the evening after flying has stopped.

Eddie stressed that the warble does not necessarily indicate a swarm; it indicates that the queen has gone off laying and there could be other reasons. In any case, it means a brood nest inspection is needed.

If you give a hive a knock with the flat of the hand, the bees hiss at you and this is something that Eddie listened to very carefully. Under normal conditions it is a short sharp noise, lasting about 1/2 a second, starting and finishing quite suddenly; the bees are alert and defensive. If a swarm is in the offing, the bees are in a happy-go-lucky mood, the sound is not so loud, rising and falling less sharply. Eddie described this as a loyalty sound and he fitted another filter to help pick it out.

With this instrument he found he could get up to three weeks warning of swarm preparations and was alerted 10 days before queen cells were started.

Lots more, including down-loadable plans at: http://bit.ly/6d4B9I

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It is a mystery that has had scientists stumped. But now experts in Scotland believe they have discovered why bees have been abandoning their hives and vanishing.  Scientists at the Roslin-based firm Global Bioenergetics think disturbance to bees from mobile phones, radio signals, wi-fi and microwaves is disrupting them with devastating results.  They think increased airwaves could be interfering with their ability to do the bee dance, which they use to tell other bees where to find pollen.  Stress caused to the bees by the radiation could be damaging their immune systems, leaving them prone to increasing levels of herbicides, insecticides and fungicides sprayed on crops.

The scientists are trying out a new device, called a Bioemitter, that transmits electromagnetic waves to provide a stable environment and reduce stress for the bees in their hives, boosting their immune system.

(Trials started in 2008 – but we are not sure yet what the conclusions are from the research.)

More at: http://bit.ly/85ZKKk

Also more on the issue at: http://doitnow.typepad.com/good_vibrations/2009/11/emfs-and-declining-bee-populations.html

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Whenever I visit my hives I come away feeling much calmer.  Non-beekeepers are often amazed when I say this.  They assume that I would become more stressed with the “threat of the sting”.

But the inverse is true.  After my seasonal dosage of stings which occur naturally when beekeeping, any stings after them become little more than a pin-prick.  This was true even at the height of the stinging season last July when I had two very buzzy hives and (rather stupidly) opened both up the same afternoon at the end of an inspection.  They managed to sting me through my suit at least 20 or so times!  The effects were that, overall, I felt better, not worse!

No, the threat of the sting is not a problem.  But the calming effect is intriguing.  And I have a feeling that, apart from a sort of bee-sting-therapy, it is the actual vibrations that the bees give off that helps to create this overall calming effect.  I have discussed this idea with other beekeepers – and none has yet disagreed.

This is definitely one of the areas that has to do with “beetwixt and between” – especially for those of you interested in the non-physical aspects of  bees and beekeeping.  Yet the research seems to be fairly scant.  Or maybe I simply have not yet come across it?!

So, to celebrate the coming of the new year, I intend to write a number of casual posts on the theme of Bee Vibrations.

Hope you enjoy and keep buzzing good vibrations for the rest of the year!

Photo from: http://www.ace-clipart.com/

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Honey sales in Kuwait rose 20 percent last month as people concerned about the spread of swine flu attempted to boost their immune system naturally.

Traditional medicine expert Youssef Al-Faresi told KUNA news agency that people were taking honey to ward off the H1N1 virus because of a lack of official vaccines.

“Honey is commonly known for its stigmatisation of the antibodies; it is useful for schoolchildren who could get in touch with swine flu patients,” he said.
More at: http://www.arabianbusiness.com/567106-kuwait-honey-sales-rise-on-swine-flu-fears

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From Friday 4 September 2009 to Sunday 6 September 2009 from 12noon – close, there is a”Bee Social” going on as part of the Pestival weekend on the Southbank in London – to celebrate with the bees as the summer draws to an end.

For one weekend only, Pestival is going to transform The Front Room at Queen ‘Bee’ Hall into a giant bee hive, a place for all to learn and discuss the colony collapse disorder. Come listen to the talks, discussions as well as a special duet performance by the Royal Festival Hall’s resident bees with guest peformers.

beecab

Programme includes:
Robyn Hitchcock’s launch night on Friday 4 September spills out into The Front Room for an extended DJ set and party. Thick La Cucaracha meets Maggot from Goldy Looking Chain. Strict dress code: masks, wings and antennae!

Talkaokie who leads a round table discussion and where bee specialists are on hand to explain the plight of bees and do demonstrations. (Saturday & Sunday, from 12pm – 2pm and 4pm – 7.30pm)

Susanna Soares will showcase her pavlov’s bee device, beautiful in construction and useful tool In predicting health problems. Bees have a phenomenal odour perception. They can be trained within minutes using Pavlov’s reflex to target a specific odour and their range of detection includes pheromones, toxins and disease diagnosis. (Saturday and Sunday  at 2.30pm and 3.30pm)

North London Beekeepers who are on hand to give urban bee keeping advice. (Saturday & Sunday)

LottoLab’s The Bee Matrix, a unique exhibit of glass, light and bumblebees – part science experiment, part sculpture – to demonstrate the role of history in shaping visual behaviour. Lottolab will be on hand to engage people in their research a project Seeing Bees See. (Saturday & Sunday)

Dr. Rufus Cartright, beekeeper Steve Benbow and a group of school children who present research findings from their BeeCab summer bee/pollen pollution project. (Saturday & Sunday)

Le Suisse Marocain, a Parisian carnival artist who, in keeping with the tradition of the unknown in the ‘Old Masters’ category, calls himself ‘Le Suisse Marocain’. The role he has chosen for this is that of the artist-as-clown, and over the festive period, he paints a live mural inspired by bees in The Front Room. Come along and watch the artist create his living work.  (Saturday & Sunday)

Plus many more performances on the Larvae Stage.

More at: http://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/calendar/productions/bee-social-113f

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